Blog Post 12 Browne Warren

Chto Delat’s “What is to be done?” raises important issues surrounding a consumer society.  According to Delat, in our society all one can see is things and their prices.  This speaks greatly of the way that consumerism has become a routine part of everyday life and how we have come to accept it.  Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” relates to this notion of a consumerist society.  Delat describes culture as the “ideal commodity”, one which can be used to help sell all of the others.  In this case, the culture that it is referencing is the consumerist culture in which we live.  This culture influences our actions, decisions, and, ultimately, our purchases.  The “thing most dangerous to the system is the stance of people who deny the consumerist concept of pleasure and avoid the cynical goods-product relationship that so saturates our society…the stance of people who are learning once again to think globally”.  This statement shows how absorbed in this culture people becoming, especially when referring to the “consumerist concept of pleasure”.  If, like the previous statement describes, one were to deny the pleasure received for consuming and becoming a part of this culture, this would disrupt the system.  A cartoon in this reading that shows a woman in a store participating in the system suggests otherwise, however, saying that our only choice, when becoming involved in the system, is the refusal to pay.  Of course, actually refusing this would be robbery, demonstrating even further just how difficult it is to act for oneself while being part of the system.  In another cartoon, it is mockingly stated “better that the whole world should be destroyed and perished utterly than that a free man should refrain from one act to which his nature move him”.  Under the system, it is difficult to act for oneself, as shown by the first cartoon.  This extreme statement shows the author’s views on this subject matter:  why should we, as free people capable of our own thoughts and actions, continue to have these important aspects of ourselves controlled by a larger force?

With the use of art as a political technique, some change can be achieved.  Because the problem being dealt with exists within a time of total capitalism, it is necessary to use a critical artistic strategy.  Otherwise, the art created is put at risk to being treated as and simply becoming a commodity.  The difference between this political art to be created and propaganda is that the political art is for the people, in that it is still in a process of becoming and being fully understood so that society can question its purpose and message.  However, propaganda already knows its purpose, and because of this holds authority.  In particular, Alexander Skidan’s art is saying that we have new messages and purposes through art.  He calls for the politicization of art so that change can take place.  In regards to St Petersberg, they can use art to remake the city by not viewing it in the way that the corrupt officials do, but rather by seeing the potential in bringing art, or change, to the city.

By viewing this again as part of the consumer society, it can be said that the alternate to this is the refusal to take part in the “games”, or in purchasing the commodities.  We find ourselves lost in this endless cycle of purchasing, and in the end, it is not necessary to change society, according to Delat, but leave it.  It seems ironic that after discussing motives for changing society the solution proposed is one of simply getting out while we still can, rather than try to improve it while we are still in this system.  Mass exodus is the way to make this change, showing how sometimes not everything can be fixed.

Blog Post 12 – Lindsay

My blog post this week may seem slightly off topic but I think this needs to be said. It is human nature to like those people with whom you have many things in common. I understand that.  However, due to the ease of communication in modern society, we are now seeing the emergence of groups who communicate almost entirely with one other. The days of discussion appear to be long gone. People communicate with others who have similar views, thereby avoiding the difficult questions, the ones that would point out the flaws in their arguments. An economist publishes a new theory on tax efficiency with another economist. A leftist radical publishes a manuscript with another leftist radical. We have groups adopting radically different points of view and each is arrogant enough to believe that they are correct. How could anyone possibly disagree? I would argue that the commodity society has not homogenized the population; rather it has polarized the population.

One need not look very far to see other examples of this polarization. You see it between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. Both refuse to budge on their positions, from healthcare to taxation to foreign policy, either blind to the fact or ignoring the fact that the ideal solution lies somewhere in the middle. The same radical difference of opinion was obvious yesterday in the comments section of the Chronicle article regarding Pi Kapp’s Pilgrims and Indians party. Half of the students were appalled at the marginalization of Native American culture, with the other half thinking that the outrage was a gross overreaction. The only similarity that emerged was the fact that each group failed to attempt to see the discussion from the other side’s point of view. Criticism without understanding is ignorance. Critiquing capitalism having never taken an economics course is ignorant, in the same way that critiquing the works we’ve read without first understanding the flaws that exist in society is ignorant; and yet people seem all too happy to perpetuate that ignorance.

One quote from the reading this week that stood out to me was: “Out of the capitalist chaos must come what I call “attractors” of values: values that are diverse, heterogeneous, dissensual” (8). I am not entirely clear about the meaning of dissensual, but on the points of diverse and heterogeneous I agree entirely – true diversity and heterogeneity, not simply polarization. People have become too self-interested and narrowly focused in their opinions. Many have become too concerned with the pursuit of money and power. However, advocating for an entirely humanistic society is ignorant in that it ignores the fact that competition and the desire for recognition and achievement are also fundamental components of human nature (for many people, maybe not all people). Would not an ideal society, a society that “fits” for the greatest number of people, contain values from both?

Blog Post #12- Ilana Wolpert

The title of the article “What is to be done?” asks an elusively ambiguous question, seemingly directed at the intellectual minds of the 21st century. “What is to be done” seems to imply that something needs to be done about society- specifically, a society with a commodity fetishism. The author states that the artist is crucial to this development of a society in which artists will be essential in disseminating political beliefs. The “Revolution,” capitalized as in Takim Bey’s “TAZ,” invokes the idea of a certain specific revolution, one identified by history as such. Art needs to continue to elicit political thought, as it did in the time of the “Revolution.”

One of the comics uses the phrase “spectacular society,” depicting a woman walking through a shopping mall. This is an allusion of Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle,” as well as the Situationists. The woman herself appears cynical by her quote, and appears to reject the type of consumer culture that the “spectacular society” propagates. Another controversial aspect of the comics is the line in the second comic: “The only free choice is refusal to pay.” This line quite obviously implies that stealing is the only way to evade commodification, in which people are trapped by the undulating control society. Could this be considered a tactic of nonexistence- evading the exchange of credit to therefore avoid being placed in the store’s register system? It seems to be a questionable tactic- one that I cannot bolster, as I do with the Facebook nonexistence tactic. However, I can’t quite tell if Skidan is critiquing this tactic or revering it.

In “Manifesto 003,” Magun, Maizel, and Skidan seem to revere the culture of the Soviet Union, and critique the last decade of cultural deprival. Whereas St. Petersburg was once rich in art, politics, and architecture, it is now petrified. The authors propose a “large movement of the people involved in culture, those who are interested in the renewal of the urban space of Saint-Petersburg.” By positively reviving the city’s culture, but negatively refusing the types of low culture that the city currently celebrates (or did, as the article was written in 2003), the artists believe that they can facilitate the growth of a new, avant-garde urbanity from the ashes of Soviet culture.

In “Manifesto of the Architects,” it is stated that “The alternative to consumer society is the refusal to take part in its games of the infinite purchase/change of commodities.” A statement, I believe, that Sean Dockray would heartily disagree with. Dockray proposes in his “Facebook (Suicide) Bomb Manifesto” that the best way to practice a tactic of nonexistence and reject social networks is to basically become as involved in them as possible and essentially blowing up the newsfeeds, rather than withdrawing from Facebook altogether.

 

Poverty in St. Petersburg – Lawrence blog post 12

I found the Chto Delat newspaper a little difficult to grasp as a whole, perhaps because I couldn’t help feeling that not all of the Russian was being translated. However, there were a few comments on the question of escape that interested me and prompted reflection.

The first quote that struck me is as follows:

2.

– How should we name the condition of a person who is not included in the senseless race behind the pseudo-updated product? Proceeding from today’s system of values is POVERTY.

– The condition, that we name poverty is a social pace.

– It is not necessary to change society. It is necessary to leave it.

I found this line of thought to be very compelling. In the U.S., certainly, much of what is termed ‘poverty’ is really just an inability to maintain the endless cycles of the “senseless race” of ‘updatind’ products which only require updates because they were designed to fall apart. Or rather, opting out of the system of consumerism might carry a negative stigma not because you will be seen as radical, but because you may be seen as poor.

It reminded me of the Vice Magazine article about the Tarnac Nine — the author made no attempt to hide their scorn at the lifestyle of those living in Tarnac. Much of the critique seemed to boil down to the fact that people were not doing anything ‘interesting’, and that people largely stayed home rather than congregating in public consumer centers. At the time, I felt vaguely that the author would probably have had a different experience if they had followed the Tarnac Nine’s example and tried to forge connections with the local community. Now, I think there is also an element of misunderstanding-based classism. Even when a group chooses not to participate in consumerism, they can still be judged by the standards of consumerism — they are simply doomed to fail that judgement. Opting out can hold no appeal for those who have not yet opted out, because while someone still exists within a value system (i.e., consumerism), they cannot see the difference between failing within that system and refusing the system entirely.

However, my thoughts turned in a different direction when I reached the next section:

3.

– For us poverty is a necessary stage in a transition to another economy and socialism.

Immediately, I found myself thinking that St. Petersburg has already endured poverty as “a necessary stage in a transition to… socialism” and it proved lethal to enormous numbers of people. It felt impossibly naive to promote poverty as a social good in St. Petersburg. In this context, it is difficult to remember the definition of poverty as simply the refusal of consumerism. Given the mocking tone taken elsewhere regarding the celebrations of St. Petersburg’s 300th anniversary, I found myself unsure how seriously the authors considered the city’s history. Surely it is impossible for them to live in St. Petersburg and not understand — I was only there for three days, but I saw the bullet holes still scarring the buildings, and I heard my guides talk about what poverty meant to them. I refuse to believe that these remarks are clumsiness. But I found myself wondering what the provocation is meant to be.

I think, if anything, it may be an attempt to avoid sugar-coating the idea of poverty while still promoting poverty. My thoughts are informed by the next few lines:

– Moreover poverty is a self-restriction in material goods and it is an effective vaccine against consumption.

– What is it more burdensome: the absence of a fake choice of a product or the necessity to consider, as primary goal of existence, the purchase of this product? The realized self-restriction
grants freedom from this rigid necessity, thus destroying public hierarchical and behaviour illusions.

They acknowledge that a chosen poverty will still be “burdensome”, avoiding an overly romanticized view. However, they also emphasize that their version of poverty is a self-restriction, backing away from the more terrible connotations of poverty in St. Petersburg. Moreover, they frame their version of poverty as an escape. When one no longer buys consumer goods at all, one is no longer faced with constant manufactured needs for more newer and shinier goods. Consumerism is not longer the “primary goal of existence”, and so one is freed from the “rigid necessity” of consumption.

In this regard, I feel their call for poverty is the first step in a call for a much larger withdrawal. As they said in the first passage I quoted, “It is not necessary to change society, it is necessary to leave it” — not only because society is unfixable, but also because peaceful poverty is unsustainable from within consumerism. Moreover, The authors say that a group exodus is better than an individual one. Choosing poverty will result in “destroying public public hierarchical and behaviour illusions” — but if an entire group does so at once, they can reconstruct the new economy advocated for in point 3. If nothing else, the consumerist drive to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is less pressing when the Joneses themselves have also chosen poverty!

It is true that a transition to socialism will require a world without iPads — but this will only be an unpleasant loss if one remains in a society in which these products are still valued. Moreover, choosing poverty is not really about choosing to fail at consumerism — it is about choosing to exit it.

Alex Holloway Blog Post 11

When looking at “The Coming Insurrection” by the Invisible Committee, I was most struck by the Third Circle, “Life, Health and Love are precarious – why should work be an exception?” The discussion of the nature of work, and even work itself, seemed particularly relevant to me and to many of the other people at this school, and all over the world, who have spent a lifetime learning that the goal of education is to get a good job, which leads to a happy and fulfilling life. The first big argument that I picked up on in this section was that work has taken over as most important “way of existing,” or that work has become the goal, not a tool to help you reach it. Work has even become a way of preventing idleness, while the system itself makes idleness, or demobilization, which can lead to destructive and negative behaviors. The Invisible Committee describes ‘mobility’ as a way of seeing non-work as a possibility, as a “slight detachment from one’s self” that improves one’s position in the work existence. Also, mobility can be seen as any non-work behavior that contributes to greater success in the existence of work. Some of the examples provided range from whitening one’s teeth to divorcing or marrying simply to improve one’s position in their work life. They also describe mobility as a synthesis of two contradicting  The way in which these truths are laid out so simply adds resonance, at least for me, as I see people, my age, who network and make sure they introduce themselves to everyone and get numbers and contacts, who whiten their teeth to appear more employable, who practice interview techniques and study, at home, different strategies developed to help people interact better with others in the workplace or improve their chances of promotion. So much of the culture at Duke is so strongly oriented towards the idea of finding employment as the end-all and be-all. The idea that the Invisible Committee it trying to find or demonstrate a way to “to demonstrate the existence of a vitality and a discipline precisely in demobilization” is fascinating to me, and I think relates a little bit to the article in Vice magazine, in which the Communists both discuss the idea of a normal, productive life outside of that capitalist culture. They both reject the traditional capitalist mode of employment while not superficially rebelling against its traditions. In the village, they do not dress up or make a bold physical statement about their resistance to the norm, they simply live their lives, but again in such a way that they do not participate in the idea of work at the pinnacle of all forms of existence. They attempt to foment change by being successful at living, not at working, and in so doing demonstrate that, as stated above, one can be happy and successful without giving themselves completely to work, and that there is so much more to life

Post 11- Ted

The first half of this piece speaks to the seven circles that constitutes the problems of modern society and how an artificial environment we are living in alienates us from ourselves and consumes our everyday life. The Invisible Committee largely attributes this total control to the capitalist and consumerist society that fuses the economic with the political.

For example, the second circled titled, “Entertainment is a vital need” starts with  one sentence examples of situations that the news media portray on the headlines with an accusatory and damning tone. On the other hand, the Invisible Committee sees their reaction as laughable. Taking on a key issue discussed in mainstream media, immigration, the Invisible Committee asserts that there is no question about immigration. They believe the media and modern society has played immigration as solely the movement of foreign workers (usually illegal) into a country. But the Invisible Committee notes that immigration is everywhere and everyone immigrates in a sense by posing several rhetorical questions: “Who still grows up where they were born? Who lives where they grew up? Who works where they live…?” They take this as a way of showing that no one really belongs anywhere now. We are all foreigners; we are all immigrants. Because of this we attach ourselves to what we think we know, usually derived from the media and the rules that govern society.

They use the example of a couple to demonstrate the transformation of something that is perceived to be originally pure and simple into a product of the world we live in. In the purest form of a relationship, there is the “romantic high” that ignores the surroundings in order to focus on the two who are in the relationship. However, this period is ephemeral and gives way to the superficiality of the reality of the romance. Today, it has become impossible to ignore the surroundings for we are constantly bombarded with advertisements glorifying romance found in a diamond ring or magazines that laud certain beauty products and looks.

This view of the modern world by the Invisible Committee is very similar to the that of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. It also frames the world in the ruling class vs. disenfranchised setting similar to that of the Empire. As Glenn Beck mentions in his show, the insurrection is coming from within the society; he calls it the “enemy from within”. This is similar to that of the strategy of fighting from within and using the very channels of the people you are against, as seen in the Empire. However, the key difference is that, in the previous texts, the constant struggle between the two opposite classes is believed to be one that shocks the system rather than to completely overturn it. Instead, the Invisible Committee with this publication frames the second part of this book as a guide to  insurrection and a call to arms. They believe this should be done in communes that mobilize similar to terrorist cells and surmount attacks with the goal to tear down society. As the last sentence of the piece chants, “ALL POWER TO THE COMMUNES”.

Blog Post #11- Holly Fang

The Coming Insurrection paints a depressing picture of what capitalism has done to society. It described the dominance of capitalist ideas had created a future that “has no future”, where assailants rebel in all sorts of ways united by their “hatred for existing society”. The Invisible Committee wrote that the assaults “made no demand[s],” and the threats carried no “message[s].” This reminds me of what we read about in Anti-Capital Projects, which stated that their occupation of the schools made “no demands.” There reason for that was that “because anything we might win now would be too insignificant,” and that the “demand is never really addressed to the existing power. They can’t hear us – everyone knows that. And, in any case, they’ve never responded to petitions of requests, only force.” Similarly, the Invisible Committee described of the resistance in city centers around the world, from “nocturnal attacks” to “nocturnal vandalisms,” to carry with them no demands because there “there will be no social solution to the present situation.” At the end of the book the authors  wrote “all power to the communes,” which again resonates with the Occupy movements and the Zapatistas, all three of which criticizes neoliberalism and the evil propagation of globalization and capitalism and advocates power to the people. While the Invisible Committee concedes that the communes “are obviously vulnerable to surveillance and police investigations, to policing technologies and intelligence gathering.” It tries to call to action activists to form underground networks to gather strength outside of the mainstream in order to fight the insurgent war. It calls for attacks on moments of crisis, be they social, political or environmental, to strike the system at moments of weakness. It gave examples of the student protests in France and the grassroots relief work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as examples of the temporary breakdown of the social order which activists could seize to make powerful attacks on the system. To the Invisible Committee, insurrection is the “local appropriation of power by the people of the physical blocking of the economy and of the annihilation of police forces” that are currently ruling the states. The Invisible Committee believed that “A day will come when this capital and this horrible concretion of power will lie in majestic ruins.” The Yes Men also staged a public performance on the likely downfall of capitalism and profit-driven corporations in their impersonation of Dow Chemical on BBC World News. However, while the Yes Men painted a picture of what the world could be like if corporations and government agencies take up responsibilities for their actions, the Invisible Committee went further to proclaim the impending collapse of capitalism. They believed that the failure of capitalist values have caused civilizations to be already in the midst of collapse, and that from “from whatever angle you approach it, the present offer no way out.” The past thirty years of struggle against capitalism have demonstrated that “things can only get worse”.